Companies create flexible IT landscapes so they can respond faster to the dynamic transformation caused by changing market requirements in global competition. However, a large number of IT change projects fail because they focus too much on technology and too little on user acceptance. The reason for this is that the profound effects technical changes have on a company and its employees are often underestimated. In many cases, too little attention is also paid to the active support management staff – especially junior management – can provide during such processes.
Comprehensive change management is, in fact, one of the critical success factors for any major IT project, because employees need to be on board during the transition.
In the scenario described below, senior management has tasked a project group with implementing an SAP system that meets the company’s requirements while also keeping to a specific timeframe and budget. The group is to replace old systems, documenting processes and system functions.
Both in-house and external IT consultants are involved in this task. They all know the existing system inside-out, understand its position in the company’s IT landscape, are familiar with all the interfaces, and are aware of the scope of functions required in the new SAP system to be implemented.
These consultants coordinate with the relevant units to adapt the business processes and set up the future system. Key users from the specialist departments support this project work to achieve the best possible results. The project benefits from their specialist in-house knowledge and their experience with the existing workflows and technical requirements.
However, the in-house and external consultants both focus primarily on systems engineering aspects such as the required structure of the master data, the data that can be taken over from the old systems, the reports that need to be provided, the content already included as standard, other content that needs to be programmed separately, and how to define roles and authorizations in the system.
Risks of focusing exclusively on the technical level
In most cases, consultants and/or project specialists only see the new IT system’s impact on the future users, their work processes and their working relationships shortly before it goes live. This is understandable, because it was necessary to focus on aspects relating to the project’s technical implementation. The training content, showing how and to what extent personnel need to retrain, is only defined once the system is nearing completion.
This is often too late for accompanying change management measures, though. Management staff who only discover the adjustments associated with a system switchover late on are unable to inform or prepare their employees in good time. Staff who don’t find out what will change for them are then at a loss. Rumors circulate regarding the supposed disadvantages of the new system, hostility grows and, in a small number of cases, employees fear the new requirements will be beyond them. In some circumstances, staff then also approach system training with this attitude. They pick fault, lack motivation and fail to learn as effectively as they should.
A key project success factor is ensuring future users not only have a good command of the system, but are also on board with the changes resulting from the new technology. Although training staff to use the new application in good time is a vital necessity, this alone is not sufficient.
It’s also crucially important for the management team to acquire a shared vision of the SAP rollout’s goals. They should be able to gage the changes and be totally committed to the associated benefits, so they must have detailed knowledge of what differences the new system will entail for their employees and their own particular area.
Only then can they tell their staff about the upcoming changes, explain their purpose and provide background information, while also encouraging constructive debate and cooperation. The necessary organizational steps can then be taken at the appropriate time, so an SAP rollout is also a management task.
Changes to processes and roles
One thing that can differ is the assignment of tasks, with the creation of new roles in areas such as master data maintenance. The management team must therefore know whether the roles and tasks are the same before and after the system is introduced, and also exactly where any differences lie. The important thing to project staff, on the other hand, is the future tailoring of roles, which determines their system access rights.
Changes to habits and personal organization of work
Warehouse picking staff used to collect delivery notes and get the temp to post these in the system once a week. In the new real-time system, they now have to record the receipt of goods themselves – and must do so immediately. Having previously decided independently which order to log articles in, pickers now have to follow the system, even if they personally would sometimes do things differently.
The really tangible change for employees relates to processes and the way they organize their workload. Many customary procedures and ways of thinking no longer work, and sometimes even tried-and-tested cooperation with colleagues changes or stops altogether.
Overlooking a development of this kind, which staff in the first instance regard as a worsening of their personal situation, increases their resistance to the new solution. A common reaction among affected users is as follows: “IT is introducing yet another new system, but no one has a clue what it means for me!”
Project change manager
In view of the above situation, it’s well worth appointing a change management officer tasked with quickly identifying the effects of introducing the system and helping the management team during this process. This ensures staff are involved at the appropriate time and the project is a success.
For example, a second “spotlight” can be incorporated in the project to highlight the effects of the new system solution on people and quickly flag these up to staff, management and anyone else involved in the project. The focus of change management is on people rather than technology.
Change management has some important tasks in an SAP project – from ensuring regular, reliable information and communication to the system- and process-specific training of future users. However, the change management officer has additional tasks when it comes to the significance of the adjustments for people and reinforcing management’s role.
Achieving a shared management understanding
The purpose of management workshops is to agree on the answers to the following questions relating to the SAP rollout:
- What is the company’s current situation?
- Why is the change (to the IT systems) required?
- What goals are to be achieved and how?
- What is changing for staff and what will remain the same?
By answering these questions, the management team achieves a shared understanding of the project and lays the foundation for communication with employees.
Management staff who are looking to get their employees to accept a change require information about how the new system will affect individuals. There is no need to be aware of every detail of changes in advance. The important thing is to take the potential impact into account, identifying the main consequences and devising appropriate measures to counter negative effects.
One task of a change manager is to address these topics with the management team and answer the following questions:
- What were the previous roles and what are the future ones?
- Will existing roles be tailored differently in the future?
- Will the same employees be carrying out these roles?
- Where will the workload increase and where will it decrease?
- Who will need to organize their work differently?
- How will the collaboration with other areas differ?
The key users and the management team identify these differences, and the individual members of the management team then determine for their particular area the adjustments staff will be required to make, which enables them to predict concerns and resistance among their employees. They can also consider how to provide specific support and develop appropriate measures for their staff.
Change management is a separate task in a project of this kind and someone should be appointed for this specific purpose, such as an employee who has good connections at the company, is respected by the management team, has experience in change management and project work, and benefits from good SAP skills and process knowledge. An external change management consultant can coach the in-house change manager and offer assistance or even assume the role of change management officer.
The bottom line: systematic change management ensures a successful project
IT projects – especially those associated with an SAP rollout – change more than just the system landscape. Since the responsible project group is focusing on technical issues, however, key aspects of change management are often not even on its radar, and yet high user acceptance is a prerequisite for the success of any IT project.
This being the case, a change management officer should be appointed early on in the project. The task of this officer is to reinforce the management team so that they can commit themselves to supporting their staff during the change process.
Some staff fear any change and immediately become defensive. If they are able to gage exactly what it will mean for them personally, this will have a positive impact – especially on their willingness to adapt. Managers dealing with this issue need to show employees they are appreciated – the key to successful change management.
The change management officer’s tasks in an SAP project
- Creating a shared management understanding of the SAP rollout’s goals
- Informing management and employees of specific changes
- Assisting management staff with their tasks during the change process
- Ensuring the necessary information and communication (regular and bidirectional)
- Organizing process and system training for staff